Staff Profile: Ify Achebe, Strength and Conditioning Coach
Ask Washington Little Capitals Hockey Director Matt Thomas how he develops elite hockey players, and he’ll tell you about the club’s secret weapon: Ify Achebe
“There isn’t a more important person in hockey development than the Strength and Conditioning Coach,” Thomas says. “I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best in the world-- and she’s in that class.”
Strength and Conditioning Coaches are the unheralded heroes of modern hockey development. These certified professionals are tasked with a veritable laundry list of challenges: improving raw athleticism despite increasingly early hockey-only specialization; maintaining fitness over the course of ever-lengthening seasons; and building strength within the frantic weeknight calendar, so they have the power and confidence to succeed on the ice when the weekend comes. Little Caps Executive Director Doug Plocki has watched how Ify systematically tackles each of those challenges for Little Caps players. “She focuses on the person, then the athlete, then the hockey player,” Plocki says.
A 2002 graduate of Marymount University, Ify earned her BA in Human Performance and Athletic Training while distinguishing herself as a three-sport athlete -- playing NCAA basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse. She then went on to earn her Masters’ Degree in Athletic Counseling & Sport Psychology from Springfield College in Massachusetts. Plocki says, she puts those mental coaching skill to work for our athletes. “Not only is she an outstanding trainer, she does an incredible job working on team building, character building, and a total approach to the mind and body. She is a massive asset for our club,” he says.
In addition to her work with the Little Capitals, Ify serves as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the Landon School, and is a personal trainer and massage therapist at Bulldawg Athletic Training and Physical Therapy.
One of the biggest challenges of her work with the Little Caps is training a group of players that range in age from 10 through 18 — spanning the spectrum of athleticism and strength. Mike Veneri, Head Coach for the 2007 team, says Ify tailors her approach to each age group. “She provides the right balance of conditioning for athletes of all ages but in particular the younger groups who are just starting to grow into their bodies.”
She teaches youngest players in the organization the fundamentals, and then helps them progress year by year as with each season more is expected in the weight room. “Acquiring proper technique, becoming educated on all of the equipment, and learning how to take care of your body in and out of the weight room are all important parts of being an elite athlete, “says 2005 Head Coach Cole Simpson. “Thanks to Ify, our players will have a strong foundation of strength and conditioning knowledge to take with them as they move on to the next level and start lifting serious weights.”
Perhaps the most important trait for an effective Strength and Conditioning Coach is personality—and Ify leaves very little to be desired. 2004 Head Coach Lyon Messier has seen that quality since her arrival. “You can really tell that she loves what she does and puts a lot of passion in it. She knows when to push the kids or when to back off,” he says. 16U Head Coach Duante Abercrombie agrees. “One quality that she possesses that commonly gets overlooked is her ability to relate with our athletes-- her sessions are always up tempo and full of positive energy,” he says.
Her philosophy in working with athletes is multi-faceted. This includes an integration of the mind and body to produce optimal performance while minimizing injury.
"I have been with the Little Caps since 2012, and am extremely fortunate to work with a club where our value system is focused on long-term development,” Ify says. “We work as a family to offer a support system that is all encompassing -- from life development to hockey. This enables our athletes to mature into skilled hockey players and emerge as great people.”
And, Abercrombie says, she possesses one more quality that sets her apart. “Her music playlists are second to none!”